As Allah’s Apprentice, Vinson Muhammad leads his ‘be yourself’ motto by example
Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Vinson Muhammad embodies that ethos and lives it every single day.
Muhammad is known by the stage name “Allah’s Apprentice,” or “God’s student.” Though he was raised in the Church, he found Islam at the age of 16 and says, “It is a very big part of who I am as a person. I don’t let evils divide me from different people of different backgrounds. I have had some life experience and through that life experience I have learned to [focus] on the best parts of people. ”
He wanted to choose a name that would be eternal, and not just cool for an era – meaning no “Lil'” this-or-that. “This is something that never gets old.”
Though Muhammad wears multiple hats – as a jazz musician, a poet, a music teacher, a speaker, and a social entrepreneur – it is his work as an MC that is his first love.
“I called myself Allah’s Apprentice because as an MC – a rapper – you’re someone who moves the crowd. You’re the master of ceremonies. An MC does more than rhyme words; [he] also touches people…I named myself that because I wanted to be God’s student. Trying to keep up with the cool people got me in trouble when I was younger. I found myself trying to do things that weren’t who I was. As Allah’s apprentice you are who God created you to be. It’s not exclusive to me. It’s a goal to be Allah’s apprentice. There are many people who are Allah’s apprentice.”
He says at the base of everything he is a servant of his community and of God. “A servant is really what I would like to be, and grow by serving through music and with any other talent that I have, serving the community and making it better,” Muhammad says. “My main message in everything I perform or encounter is to be yourself. It’s something I struggle with and learn to do more and more every day because it has freed me I like to share that with the rest of the world.”
For Muhammad, the best way to teach people how to be themselves is to lead by example, showing others that we’re all different but the same. “Regardless of your beliefs we all have the same goal, which is ultimately peace and to be successful. Be yourself: you can do that because there was never anyone made like you. Leading by example is the best way I know how. When people see you living a free life, they want to know how.”
For example, as a jazz musician, Muhammad has made a habit of carrying his trumpet around with him. Everywhere.
In 2008, he had a teaching internship that took up the bulk of his days, and then was made a section leader for his college marching band. He thought, “Okay, how am I going to lead these guys, and when and where can I practice with these 14-15 hour [work] days?” So he had the idea to keep his trumpet with him wherever he went and any free moment he got, whether it was at a restaurant or grocery store or on the beach in California, he practiced.
“I got so much better when I kept doing it,” he says. “It’s not just having a trumpet around in your hand, but a symbol of what you’re passionate about. You carry it around with you wherever you go. It’s always with you – not just faith but also your career, [anything you’re passionate about], you never put it down. You take whatever you’re committed to wherever you go.”
The image of him walking around Macon with his trumpet in hand has made a lasting impression on the community, to the point that when people think “trumpet” they think of Muhammad – which has led to some unique opportunities for him, including playing a festival in Egypt and teaching music at two elementary schools.
“It all came from the fact that I was carrying that trumpet around and people associated it with me,” he says. “I don’t claim that I’m the best. I know what a master looks like; I’m proficient. Next thing I knew I had an all expenses paid trip to Egypt. That was one of the most eye-opening, enriching experiences of my life, and that all came from just being myself…Even though people look at it as odd, I didn’t let that dictate how I was going to live my life.”
As a rapper, Muhammad focuses on putting out positive messages. “When I saw the balance of life reflecting art and art reflecting life, and saw the impact of music, [I decided] I would rather give something positive rather than something negative,” he says. “The problem was a lot of the positive stuff is corny! It has a great message but it’s corny. It can’t compete on the radio. So I thought, ‘How can I make this cool for me?’ I just worked on impressing myself with my lyrics and saying things I would be comfortable with as a young person and with what my peers did.”
He has traveled the world as a performer, and has opened up for acts such as James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Snoop Dogg, Goodie Mobb, Erykah Badu, Dwele, and Lailah Hathaway.
Muhammad’s father is involved with the annual Georgia Juneteenth Week, commemorating the end of slavery and emphasizing the importance of education and achievement. He wanted to have a youth-led hip hop summit and wanted Muhammad to produce it – when he was just 16. This is now the tenth year of the Real Talk Hip Hop Summit, entirely produced by young people ages 9-28, from the lighting and sound engineering to the advertising and fundraising. “That’s powerful because now they have figured out, ‘I can use my talent and do something positive to raise money, and I can teach people these skills and turn this into a career.’ The [purpose of the] hip hop summit is to show youth how to use hip hop in positive ways and do positive things.”
The latest album from Allah’s Apprentice is called Appreciation, one that Muhammad says is very pivotal for him. “I am very big on faith but I also feel that faith should be questioned. I don’t feel blind faith is good for anybody. Anybody’s faith that hasn’t been questioned or tested isn’t strong; it isn’t faith. I went through a very challenging period and out of that came this album.”
He says the album, even the cover imagery, plays on the idea of knowing your own history and your future and showing your appreciation to God for your life and talent. “Only you and God know your true value,” he says. “Appreciating yourself helps people appreciate you.” For him it is also about showing appreciation to his family, friends, and the community for their support.
This weekend Muhammad will embark on the week-long Dream Appreciation Tour, a follow-up to last year’s Dream in Motion Tour that will hit open mics all over the Midwest down through Nashville, Atlanta, and back in Macon. “[This is about] appreciating your dream enough to make it your reality,” he says. “I will do this all on my spring break as a teacher touring open mics, and through performing show and encourage people to ‘be yourself.'”
After all, nobody else is going to do it for you.